Monday, October 25, 2010

A Tale of Drowning in Free Beer and Corporate Treachery

On my way to work the other day I heard mention of something called The London Beer Flood of 1814. Turns out that October 17th was the anniversary of this unhappy event, one which I was surprised to have never heard of before.

It seems that a brewery, owned by Meux and Company, used to operate on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street in London. It was located in the middle of a terribly crowded slum. The brewery was large though, and boasted some truly huge barrels. One was over 22 feet high. That's about two stories of porter! The batch in that particular barrel had been fermenting for almost 10 months and the metal bands holding the wooden staves together were beginning to show fatigue. One of them snapped, causing a chain reaction that sent debris flying into other barrels, exploding them too. Some people said they could hear the explosion from five miles away.

Soon 1,224,000 liters of beer were flooding the streets. Two houses were completely demolished and the brick wall of a nearby pub collapsed on top of a 14 year old barmaid. The area erupted in chaos. People ran towards the tsunami, trying to collect as much free beer as they could in pots and jars. Some people drank with their hands. But others were washed away by the tide or drowned in tenement basements. As injured survivors started making their way to nearby hospitals the smell of beer followed them. One hospital nearly had a riot as people rose from their sickbeds demanding to know why there was a party going on and why they weren't being served ale too.

In the end, at least 7 people drowned and one died from alcohol poisoning. The area was horribly poor; some people decided to display the corpses of family members killed in the disaster for a small fee. One home hosted so many ghoulish onlookers that the floor caved in, plunging the thrill-seekers into a basement still filled with beer.

The area stank of rancid ale for months since the brewery did very little clean-up work. In fact, they didn't even pay for the funerals of the victims. Instead, residents of the local slums left coins on the coffins. When someone finally took the company to court over the accident the judge ruled it "an act of God" and therefor not their fault. Meux and Company were eventually reimbursed by the government for the money that they had already paid in taxes on the lost beer. No one reimbursed the residents for their lost homes, of course.

Still, it could have been worse. 100 years later, in Boston in 1919, a huge tank of molasses exploded, killing 21 people. Death by treacle is doubtlessly worse than death by beer.


  1. Wow, I haven't heard of that. Kinda interesting & sad.

  2. Oh, my word, can you imagine the lingering, stale beer smell? Ugh.

  3. where do you find these happenings haha?!

  4. Erin, I'm just drawn to the tragic and absurd, I guess! ;)

    MAB, I know! Ugg!

    Belle, that was my reaction. Interesting, yet sad.


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